RIM PlayBook Priced for Apple iPad Head-to-Head

RIM is pricing the PlayBook in ways that create a head-to-head comparison with the Apple iPad, along with setting a release date of April 19.

ORLANDO, Fla.-Research In Motion has spent the past few months ramping up its 7-inch PlayBook tablet for its big debut-all while keeping two particularly vital bits of information, the release date and pricing scheme, under wraps.

Now, as other manufacturers use this week's CTIA conference to unveil their own entries into the tablet market, RIM has decided to reveal that information at last: the PlayBook will hit store shelves April 19, in the United States and Canada, with a starting price of $499 for the 16GB model. The 32GB model will retail for $599, and the 64GB for $699.

That places the PlayBook in roughly the middle ground, pricing-wise, of the red-hot-but-still-nascent tablet market. It may also be a wise move on RIM's part: the Motorola Xoom, a powerful 10.1-inch tablet with dual-core processors and the tablet-optimized Google Android 3.0 (codenamed Honeycomb), has received early criticism for costing $799 unlocked. (Those willing to pony up for a two-year contract, at $20 per month, can pay $599 for the device.)

Indeed, the PlayBook's pricing scheme places it toe-to-toe against Apple's iPad 2, whose 16GB version retails for $499, 32GB for $599 and 64GB for $699.

Unlike the swarm of Android-based tablets hitting the market, the PlayBook relies on a proprietary operating system developed in-house by RIM, using assets acquired during the April 2010 takeover of QNX Software systems.

With its dual-core processor and features such as multitasking, the PlayBook is targeted not only at consumers, but also BlackBerry's traditional business audience. During a handful of meetings with eWEEK throughout January, RIM executives suggested they were still tweaking the tablet's software for better battery life, while insisting that it would eventually provide "a full day's work" on a single charge.

In a bid to further appeal to that audience, RIM recently signed an agreement with Microsoft that will give the PlayBook the ability to port and display Office 365 data from any user's BlackBerry, via a tethering service called BlackBerry Bridge. Office 365's cloud-based subscription model allows organizations to stay up-to-date with the latest versions of Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online. Also as part of that agreement, RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise will apparently connect "cloud to cloud" with Microsoft's data centers to host Office 365 data on users' BlackBerrys.